The Qur’an, the Atonement and Salvation
Salvation in Islam
In our last blog post we looked at Surah 4:157 which denies the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. James White in his recent book, “What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an” (Bethany House, Bloomington, Minnesota: 2013) writes this about Surah 4:157:
These forty Arabic words stand alone in Qur’an. They stand alone without commentary in the hadith literature as well. They stand against not only the natural reading of other Qur’anic texts but also against the entire weight of the historical record. Forty Arabic words written six hundred years after the events they describe, more than seven hundred fifty miles from Jerusalem. Forty Arabic words that are not clear, not perspicuous, and yet this is the entirety of the foundation upon which the Islamic faith bases its denial of the crucifixion, and hence, resurrection of Jesus Christ (p. 142).
In denying the crucifixion of Christ, Islam sets itself against the Old and New Testaments, as well as the testimony of history itself. Moreover, if denying the crucifixion of Christ, Islam denies the Gospel and denies the possibility of salvation.
In Islam, salvation is by works. One popular illustration of this is scales or a balance on the day of judgment. The person who is heavy in good works will be saved; the person without enough good works will be damned to hellfire. “The balance that day will be true (to a nicety): those whose scale (of good) will be heavy, will prosper: Those whose scale will be light, will find their souls in perdition, for they have wrongfully treated Our Signs” (Surah 7:8-9); “Then those whose balance (of good deeds) is heavy, they will attain salvation: But those whose balance is light, will be those who have lost their souls; in Hell will they abide” (Surah 23:102-103; for other passages on salvation by works see Surah 4:124; 11:23; 16:97; 28:67). Salvation, therefore, depends on Allah: Allah forgives whom and what he wills, and his forgiveness seems to be rather arbitrary. No Muslim can know how many works Allah will require for a person to be admitted to paradise.
But there is one sin which Allah will never forgive. That is the sin of shirk, which is the sin of associating another with Allah. No one guilty of shirk, a mushrik, will enter heaven, but will be cast into hell (except, of course, if he repents before death). By definition, a Christian who believes that Jesus is the Son of God and worships the Triune God is guilty of shirk. That is why the Muslim fears conversion to Christianity: for a Muslim to become a Christian is for him to commit shirk. Besides that, in many Islamic nations the sin of shirk is punishable with death. That surely is great obstacle to be overcome when the Christian witnesses to the Muslim. We need to show him that Christianity is not shirk! We need to show him that the Trinity is not a doctrine of shirk! We need to show him how a Christian can confess that Jesus is the Son of God without committing the sin of shirk!
Here is what the Qur’an says about shirk: “ Allah forgiveth not that partners should be set up with Him; but He forgiveth anything else, to whom He pleaseth; to set up partners with Allah is to devise a sin most heinous indeed” (Surah 4:48); “Allah forgiveth not (the sin of) joining other gods with Him; but He forgiveth whom He pleaseth other sins than this: one who joins other sins with Allah hath strayed far, far away (from the Right)” (Surah 4:116). There are many more warnings about shirk in the Qur’an.
Allah the Merciful?
The Qur’an repeats like a refrain that Allah is “Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful” and “Most Gracious.” It would appear, therefore, that mercy, grace and forgiveness are part of Allah’s very name, the way in which Allah reveals himself. Nevertheless, the Qur’an is not like the Bible which calls God rich in mercy and full of compassion, and demonstrates that again and again in God’s dealings with His people in Jesus Christ. Allah’s mercy is not demonstrated in any particular or spectacular way. Moreover, Allah is called “just” or “righteous.” “Allah is never unjust in the least degree: if there is any good (done), He doubleth it, and giveth from His own presence a great reward” (Surah 4:40).
If Allah is truly just, on what basis can he forgive sins? Can Allah simply ignore the sins of his creatures and pretend that they never happened? That is the dilemma which Islam presents. On the one hand, Allah is supposedly just, but his justice, if Surah 4:40 be properly understood, consists in his doubling and rewarding the good works of men. On the other hand, Allah is supposedly merciful, but the Qur’an gives few, if any, examples of such mercy in action, and does not explain how Allah can show mercy at the expense of justice.
The Cross Displaying God's Mercy and Justice
The Christian Gospel explains how God is both merciful and just. He is merciful in that He graciously forgives all sinners who believe in Jesus Christ; and He is just in that He forgives such sinners only because His righteous demands have been met in the cross of Christ. In denying the cross of Christ, Islam denies the only way in which God is both merciful and just.
But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law (Rom 3:21-28)
Notice what the New Testament is teaching here. By setting forth Jesus Christ to be a propitiation (a word which simply means “a sacrifice which appeases the wrath of God”) He is just and the justifier of the one who believes in Jesus. Without the sacrifice of the cross God cannot justify a sinner and remain just. Allah, who supposedly forgives without the sacrifice of the cross, must show mercy in a purely arbitrary manner. There is no basis for it. An arbitrary deity who shows unjust, arbitrary mercy cannot be trusted, and we can have no assurance of faith in such a deity. Compare the triumphant cry of Christianity:
What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (Rom. 8:31-35).
The Christian knows that there is no condemnation for him. He does not know this because he has performed sufficient works and hopes that his scales will be sufficiently heavy on the Day of Judgment, but because Christ has died for him and has thus blotted out all of his sins. Since Christ has died, there is no condemnation for the ones for whom He died! Moreover, Christ is risen, and since He is risen, we know He lives for us and prays for us in heaven. Moreover, nothing can separate us from the love of God which is displayed so beautifully in the cross and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement (Rom. 5:6-10).
Thus we see that both the love, mercy and grace of God, on the one hand, and the justice and wrath of God, on the other hand, were displayed on the cross. All of this the Muslim denies and rejects.
And because Islam denies the cross, the Muslim cannot know the joy of the forgiveness of sins. The Muslim can work, hope, pray and fast, but nothing will avail for the one who rejects Jesus Christ as God’s Son and seeks to substitute his own works in the place of what Christ has done.
Next time, DV, we will look at why Christ died and why only His death could pay for sins.